I think that you, like the evangelicals, are perhaps taking a one-dimensional view of the fifties and you are making the error of judging the past through the eyes of the present. Was the Fifties a better time from a spiritual perspective? Well there was a greater percentage of the population that went to church, acknowledged Jesus as their personal Saviour, worked voluntarily for the community and gave a larger amount for the work of the church. Also the only voice then for the oppressed was in fact the church. Almost no-one else was able to get past the press barons. — Don Smith
Well, my point is not that the 1950s were the most oppressive and wicked era of all, but merely that it is not as glorious as many of those enamored with its supposed righteousness would pretend.
Some of what Don says is true here in America. Church attendance was assumed, children in public schools prayed Christian prayers whether they were Christians or not, and they performed other such public acts of piety.
But it was also a time of marked oppression. Segregation was the law of the land throughout the American South, where blacks were systematically denied the right to vote and were kept in line by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
Women also were treated as second-class. With the return of GIs from WWII, women had had to surrender their increased freedoms of the 1940s and now, thanks to the explosive growth of the suburbs, were confined to a ridiculously small sphere of domestic duties, where they were often left to raise the children on their own, bereft of the familial and social supports that had been present prior to the nation’s industrialization during WWII.
And of course there was the Red Scare, whipped to a paranoid frenzy by political opportunists like Sen. Joe McCarthy. With the systematic purge of the entertainment industry and the government itself of anyone even remotely suspected of being a Red, Europeans wondered, with some cause I think, if the United States were going from saving the world from fascism to becoming a fascist state.
I don’t doubt that there were some virtues in the 1950s that we could avail ourselves of now in the 21st century, but I find distressing our willingness to turn a blind eye to the pretty horrific abuses in the country. As noted, those who want to restore American values to the supposed idyllic virtues of the 1950s typically are white evangelical Protestants, the same group that held socio-political dominance in the 1950s.
Though I don’t hear a significant cry for a return to segregation from those quarters, the leadership of this group is mistrustful if not outright disdainful of liberalism, supports reinstating Christian prayer in public schools, emphasizes the supposedly God-given roles of husband as breadwinner and wife as domestic caretaker (to the point that Paige Patterson has ordained that his seminary teach housewifery skills to women and deny them any ordination), and generally favors a return to the socio-political dominance of conservative Protestant evangelicalism. These are all steps backward in terms of equality and social justice.
Mainline churches did step forward to advance the cause of Civil Rights in the 1960s here in America, but it’s significant to note that this was something that began in the black churches — and again, black Protestants, evangelical or otherwise, aren’t beholden to nostalgia for 1950s America. Additionally, many predominantly white churches either sat on the sidelines entirely, or opposed the Civil Rights movement as needless agitation.
My heritage lies with the church of the 1950s. I see places aplenty where we missed the boat, and I see places aplenty where the white evangelical Protestant church misses the boat today.
Ultimately I want to live in no other era but the one I am in. My heritage is where, what and when it is, but that is not where, what and when I am. That is now, and now alone.